Dearie me! It seems I've been so very busy with concert-going and sightseeing that I haven't had a moment to sit down and write. I plan to remedy that tonight, but I warn you, this'll be a long one. Subjects to be covered include: Central Park, New York Public Library, Decemberists concert, Coney Island, New York Aquarium, Brooklyn AND MORE.
[Mostly transcribed from paper journal]
I am sitting beside Alice in Wonderland, she on a mushroom surrounded by other Wonderland folk, me on a bench surrounded by tiny children and harried mothers. The suitably nonsensical din of crying mixed with an unseen parade's dissonant music tells me I've truly fallen down the rabbit hole now. This entire morning has been spent getting lost in Central Park, taking wrong turns within this green expanse that sprawls through the middle of Manhattan. I somehow managed to find Strawberry Fields, the pond where people sail miniature remote-controlled sailboats, and this monument to Carroll's Alice in Wonderland, which sits not far from the boats. Finding Alice was my final quest, one that saw me nearly getting lost in The Ramble's wilder paths, and has now required me to battle swarms of screaming toddlers to get a decent photo of the lady herself. Despite the cacophony, Alice sits peacefully, beatifically smiling upon the children who come to climb on her back and sit in her lap. The Mad Hatter and the Cheshire Cat smile maniacally at all the fun, and only the Dormouse seems to notice the bustle, his expression slightly pop-eyed from atop his smaller mushroom.
Now I've traded one ruckus for another, having moved from the bench surrounded by toddlers to one right smack in the middle of Times Square. Billboards loom, people stroll and chatter, and men sell Broadway tickets for next to nothing as I sit here and write. As I walked from Central Park down to here, I stumbled across a German parade, complete with songs that worshiped beer and fantastic traditional outfits. Then, making a fortuitous wrong turn, I found Madison Avenue (hello, Mad Men!), Park Avenue, and then 3rd, at which time I realized by mistake and turned back. After what felt like hundreds of blocks, I reached Broadway, which led my tired feet right down to my current location.
Not long after this, I met Pamela for some more guided sightseeing and dinner before my concert. We checked out Macy's, the lobby of the Empire State Building (Art Deco glory, but I wasn't in the right touristy mood to actually head up to the top), and the New York Public Library. The library is absolutely stunning, a veritable temple to the wonder and power of the book, all marble and carved wood with ceilings that wouldn't look out for place in a Baroque church. Even the washrooms were marble, though the lion's head drinking fountain was sadly out of service. After a quick peek into Grand Central Station (definitely grand, beautiful ceiling as well), we made our way to an Ethiopian restaurant called Queen of Sheba, where the vegetarian platter thrilled our tastebuds and readied me for an evening of standing and listening to wonderful tunes.
Pamela and I parted ways after dinner, she to a found footage film festival and me to see THE DECEMBERISTS. As always, they rocked my socks to an extreme degree and left me quite certain that I'd be happy to follow them on tour and see them a hundred million times. This was a very special show, as Colin and his gang submitted themselves to fate and allowed a hilarious British man to pick the setlist out of an old school lottery-ball tumbler. What followed was a show that managed to include many of my very favourite songs, as evidenced below:
Bridges & Blooms (Joanna Newsom cover)
From My Own True Love (Lost at Sea)
Bachelor and the Bride
Culling of the Fold
I Was Meant for the Stage
Crane Wife III
The Island I, II & III
A wee song Colin was forced to make up on the spot
THE TAIN (yes, seriously, I know, so good)
The Perfect Crime
Mr. Blue Sky (ELO cover)
Totally incredible show, solidified their place as my top band of all time. I arrived back at the apartment totally exhausted, exceptionally sore and ready to collapse on the couch in a similar manner as the night before.
Pamela had the day off and I was pretty zonked from the long day before, so we enjoyed a much-needed sleep in and a leisurely morning before hopping on the subway and clacking along the tracks in the direction of Coney Island. People had taken pains to inform me that the place had retained little of its former grandeur, but the moment I stepped onto the boardwalk, I could sense the lingering presence of men with moustaches and summer-weight suits and women in full-coverage bathing costumes who had come to Coney a hundred years ago to spend a day with the carnivalesque, just as I was about to do on this day.
Sure, the boardwalk may be populated mainly by teenagers in trendy clothing, set-upon mothers with whining, sticky children in tow and men whose skin has tanned to a deep brown leather, but the atmosphere still holds the promise of wonder. We wandered along the pier and through the midway, stopping to take pictures of the colourful lights and gaudy games. I had my fortune told by a lazy-eyed mechanical grandma who may have been related to Thom Yorke, and pretended to arm-wrestle a terrifying plastic strongman (actually playing the game would have been a waste of money, since I'm weaker than a sickly baby when it comes to contests of strength). Farther along the road we happened upon the New York Aquarium, and I popped in, unable to resist the lure of walruses and pretty jellyfish.
They had one of those underwater viewing rooms for the seal tanks, and I spent most of my time at the aquarium standing starry-eyed at the walrus tank as one of the pair swam over and over towards the glass, seeming to look me right in the eye before its huge bulk pushed off against the window and sailed away, swimming upside down in a self-satisfied manner. After the wonder of the walruses, I moved onto an equally fascinating show - the Coney Island Freak Show.
Passing by the barker by the door, I entered a lobby filled with the brightly coloured folk-art depictions of the various freaks and continued on into the inner sanctum, seating myself on a rough wooden bleacher among other curiosity seekers. As the show went on, I saw a man jam a running electric drill up his nose (carefully, so as not to disturb his majestic moustache), a woman swallow two swords, a man escape from a straitjacket whilst hanging upside-down, a snake dance, a contortionist, Lobster Boy (his hands and feet claw-like with ectrodactyly), and an impressive fire-eater who held the fire on her tongue for what seemed like an impossibly long time. I've been cultivating an interest in freaks and freakshows for some time now, so seeing a modern-day show and imbibing in the atmosphere of curiosity and apprehension was something that books and photos on the web could never match. The Sideshow Museum was unfortunately closed when I exited the show, but I don't regret choosing the live event over the historical record (anyways, I should save some things for next time!).
Today's first (and, incidentally, only - it's been along three days and I'm in need of a moment to take a breath and regenerate my Tourist Powers) sightseeing adventure was the Museum of Natural History. I'd been looking forward to this part of the trip with an excitement akin to a small child on Christmas eve, so finally walking into the hallowed halls of natural wonder was, to put it lightly, a thrill.
My first stop was at the current special exhibit, a show so up my alley I might as well put my name on its sign. EXTREME MAMMALS covered strange beasts from all corners of the world - sloths (both modern and the extinct giant variety), pangolins, narwhals, and the ever-creepycute aye-aye among others. It seemed to have been designed specially for my arrival, and I appreciated the foresight the museum had put into its organization and Jess-oriented awesomeness.
Continuing on, I almost accidentally happened upon the upper level of the Hall of African Mammals. Walking through the doorway into that dimly-lit hall, the display cases glowing jewel-like in the gloom, I caught my breath and took a moment to collect myself (to prevent any untoward expressions of excitement - say, leaping or whooping for joy). Since it was earlyish Monday morning, the room was quiet, a reverent hush surrounding the tableaux of all manner of animal engaged in fighting, hunting, lolling, eating - everything an animal might be doing, all captured in dioramas, their painted backdrops turning the scenes into the works of some lost Dutch painter, a disciple of Rembrandt concerned with colour and light and dynamic use of shadow.
As I walked through the museum, whole swathes of the natural world spooled out before me. More African mammals, birds of the world, mammals of North America, all frozen in time, their limbs and wings seemingly about to spring into movement. I was loath to leave this temple of taxidermy, this palace of natural wonder, but my eyes were tired from all the peering, and my feet were about to stage a rebellion.
The rest of the day flew by. I met Pamela at the MOMA, decided I was all museum'd out for the day (it'll wait until tomorrow), spent some time walking around downtown, stumbled upon an Anthropologie, lamented in the general direction of its too-expensive dresses, then headed back to the apartment for a quick bite to eat and a much-needed rest. I then accompanied Pamela back downtown, saw her off to work, and did another brief wander around the Herald Square area before coming back here to have an early night and coerce my angry feet back into cooperating with the rest of my body.
Whew. What a lot of things to have done in three days! No wonder I'm exhausted, eh? There will be more to come in the next three days, so stay tuned for ADVENTURE IN NYC: THE JESSICA STORY, DAY IV.
A Designing Woman
- NYC Day 1-3